Our long wet summer means it's party time for hydrangeas

Raining champions: Our long wet summer means it’s party time for hydrangeas

  • UK gardening expert on what you need to know to grow hydrangeas this year
  • READ MORE: Don’t let butterflies flutter by — give them plenty of treats to make them welcome

This time last year we were all discussing how to adapt our gardens for hotter, drier summers — but 12 months on, the weather has been warm and wet. 

While this might have put the dampener on holiday plans, it has been ideal for hydrangeas, which have had a bumper year. 

A couple of days of sunshine, followed by a day of pouring rain is just the ticket for this shrub, native to Japan, China and Korea. 

Hydrangeas are happiest in that holy grail of soil conditions, moist but well drained.

Beautiful and bountiful: Hydrangea paniculata Vanille Fraise is thriving this year


This shallow-rooted shrub does not like to be waterlogged or to get too dry. 

It is ideal in woodland gardens and mixed herbaceous borders, and there are hundreds of varieties flowering from June to September and October, making them a good succession plant for late summer. 

At Exbury Gardens in ­Hampshire, the collection of more than 80 varieties of hydrangeas is having ‘the best year they’ve ever had’, according to head gardener Tom Clarke. 

While most hydrangeas prefer dappled shade, H. paniculata types don’t mind full sunshine. They also flower on this season’s growth, so can be pruned hard in winter, and will bounce back the following year. 

In contrast, the lacecap H. macrophylla, and most other types of hydrangea flower on the previous season’s growth. 

This means you should do little more than deadhead them or you risk losing next year’s blooms. 

Leave the flowerheads over winter as they are attractive even when dead, then cut them back just as the new growth appears. 

You also need to remove about a quarter of the old growth each year to prevent them from getting too woody. 


If you only grow one hydrangea, Clarke recommends H. paniculata Hercules. It bears huge white cones of strong upright flowers tinged with rose pink. 

Vanille Fraise is another good variety, with pale pink blooms darkening to bright pink later in the year. 

Silver Dollar has dense, creamy, white flowers fading to pink, while Limelight is white with a touch of lime green. 

Clarke also recommends trying H. serrata, a smaller, more delicate species of lacecap. One of the best-known of these is Bluebird, with pale blue flowers.

However, hydrangeas grown in the ground will only flower blue if the soil is acidic, turning pink if it is too alkaline. 

If you are a fan of blue hydrangeas and your soil has a high pH, try growing them in pots filled with ericaceous compost. H. serrata Shojo is another good variety with pale pink and purple flowers. 

Autumn is the perfect time to plant hydrangeas while the soil is still warm, although you can plant them in the spring if you make sure they are well-watered. 

They are quick to establish, and don’t require regular feeding, but will benefit from a mulch with well-rotted organic material early in the growing season to help retain moisture. 

This year’s bumper display has been an unexpected delight but Clarke says we should enjoy it while we can, because who knows what next summer will bring.

‘Climate change is probably the biggest single challenge that we as a garden face, but our climate is not changing in any one direction. It’s becoming more extreme and more unpredictable,’ he adds. 

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